Seven Springs Speaker Spotlight: Jackie Cleary Dietrich, Small-Scale Farmer and Diane Ott Whealy, Seed Saver

Reader Contribution by Erica Binns
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Get to know Jackie Cleary Dietrich of Auburn Meadow Farm.

What are you going to speak about at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR?

A Farming Year: Journaling the birth of a small family cattle farm. Stories, snapshots, food, joys, frustrations and why small farms are worth fighting for.

My aim was to know cows as they are without Disney-izing them. How do they react to their environment, how much do they feel, is it possible to have sustainable meat and dairy and allow the cows to have a quality life?

At Auburn Meadow Farm, we go about things a bit backwards – we make our farming decisions based on what we want to eat. Our whole livestock journey began with dog food and butter if you can believe it. Somehow from there, we ended up with 62 acres and a herd of bossy cows… Here we share what some of what we’ve learned along the way.

What are you most looking forward to sharing with FAIR attendees?

The realities, rewards and joys caring for livestock brings. It changes you, really.

Tell us about your background with your particular topic.

I grew up raising and training horses so I already had a real love of working with large animals. I’m no longer interested in the high stress lifestyle of the horse show world, and honestly, I just don’t bounce like I used to. But, I really missed the special teamwork and bond created working with an animal every day.

Oddly enough, we came to raising beef via vegetarianism. I wanted to eliminate all inhumane dairy and meat options from our diet, but being a vegetarian was not a lifestyle I enjoyed or could sustain for the long haul. Still, I couldn’t make peace with the hypocriscy of closing my eyes and leaving the dirty work of my meat and dairy consumption to industry.

The more I learned about food and agriculture, the more I needed real food alternatives. Fortunately or unfortunately, alternatives at the time were not plentiful so we decided to throw caution to the wind and attempt to fill a void. Our response to our industrial food system is the creation of Auburn Meadow Farm.

We decided on cattle as our best option for success, and from there assembled a herd of heritage breed American Milking Devon Cattle. Our goal is to continue to reduce inputs and leave no byproduct unused, thereby creating a perfect circle of thrift. That philosophy has led us to revisit pre-WWI farming and food preservation methods which has been a really fascinating and enjoyable journey.

Of course, most of us have good intentions, but no one wants to wear a hair shirt forever. It’s great to be Good, but the food had better taste good too. Fortunately, the beef is truly the best I’ve ever eaten and the milk is all they said it would be. So, in our case our greatest hopes are true: what’s best for the animals and the environment truly is best for us too.

Get to know Diane Ott Whealy of Seed Savers Exchange.

What are you going to speak about at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR?

I had the pleasure of attending the first MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR last September and being a homesteader myself in the early 1970’s seeing all the modern conveniences offered today seemed like luxury homesteading to me. It made me long for the good old days: my Corona mill, gravely tractor, Franklin wood stove, ball canning book, cistern water, and a dangerous pressure canner. We had no internet, just the Whole Earth Catalog.

I embrace this progress with all the modern conveniences of homesteading that have evolved over the past decades. The idea that living a simple life can be vibrant, not as dire as it was when I was doing it over 30 years ago. And more importantly in 2011 we still all share that same desire for that simpler sustainable lifestyle. In the mid 1970’s not many people knew about the importance of preserving heirloom seeds, actually some viewed saving seed and gardening organically as anti establishment. It felt satisfying to realize seed saving, a major component to our ancestors gardening, is being recognized as an important skill to process as part of a self sufficient sustainable lifestyle.

In a world where the problems seem to get the attention, they are more dramatic, more news worthy, the solution is often neglected. Become inspired by understanding how one simple act, growing and nurturing heirloom seed can connect you with your family, the past, and future. With 7 billion humans on earth this summer, one person, one small change  can make a difference in our world which sometimes seems complicated and out of our control.

This explains why over 30 years we have all longed for the same things that started Seed Savers Exchange and Mother Earth News in the first place: providing information, skills and the seed to become part of that solution.

I am rambling a bit, but hopefully you understand where I am going, plus I will have a beautiful PowerPoint to illustrate the growth of Seed SaversExchange as we began simply with an idea and a passion and grew into a world wide organization. Photos taken at Seed Savers Heritage Farm demonstrate seed saving techniques and garden designs. Audiences new to heirloom gardening and farming will learn about the importance of preserving our plant biodiversity. Gardeners, small or large, will be able to create bountiful gardens, produce healthy food and preserve our rich agricultural heritage that inspire show a link between the pleasures of creating beautiful gardens, producing healthy food and preserving our rich agricultural and flower heritage.

We may not have saved the world, but we saved much that is precious.

What are you most looking forward to sharing with FAIR attendees?

I always enjoy sharing my experience of garden design showcasing my heirloom cottage style garden at Seed Savers Exchange Heritage Farm. Sharing my observations of plants, especially the self seeding annuals, over the past 20 years that have contributed to creative vignettes, designs that have all captured the sense of place.

Also, I look forward to sharing how Mother Earth News was instrumental in the early growth of the Seed Savers Exchange and how we both continue today to inspire and provide reliable information for the modern homesteaders movement.

Tell us about your background with your particular topic.

I am the co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange and presently serve as Vice President. As a daughter of Iowa farmers and later a Missouri homesteader, I became a leader in the grass-roots movement to preserve our agricultural biodiversity. Seed Savers Exchange began humbly as a simple exchange of seeds among passionate gardeners, a small group of amateurs, and today Seed Savers Exchange is the preeminent nonprofit seed-saving organization in the U.S. I have been a national leader in the heirloom seed movement and a strong advocate for the protection of the earth’s rare genetic food stocks.

In 1986 I helped to develop Heritage Farm, Seed Saver’s scenic 890-acre headquarters near Decorah, Iowa to maintain and display collections of endangered food crops. I am an experienced gardener who designs the heirloom display gardens each summer at Heritage Farm. I recently wrote my first book, /Gathering, Memoir of a Seed Saver, where I chronicle this heartwarming story that captures what is best in the American spirit: the ability to dream and, through hard work and perseverance inspire others to contribute to a cause.

Why should fairgoers attend your presentation?

I will not only provide practical information about seed saving but I will also tell a story. The story chronicles my life of homesteading; nurturing children, gardens, and seeds; and maintaining sanity and a sense of humor while helping grow the largest nongovernmental seed bank of its kind in the country, taking a dream and turning into reality.

How will you get to the FAIR, and how far do you have to travel?

Train, planes and automobile! Not really a train, but I will drive to Rochester MN, fly to Pittsburgh, rent a car and enjoy the scenic drive to Seven Springs.

What are you most looking forward to at the FAIR?

Reconnecting with friends from last years conference, meeting new gardeners and introducing them to the work of Seed Savers Exchange, and giving them a catalog, pack of seeds and inspiration.

What advice do you have for attendees?

Obtain the information needed for your particular interest, but remember to meet people, share your experiences and learn from others. The value of my work over the past years was always the people that brought skills and seeds into my life and the life of Seed Savers Exchange. But most importantly, eat the home made ice cream!

If you were stranded on a deserted island and could have only one thing, what would you choose?

I have always hated that question, so many choices and impossible to choose just one… but if I wanted to survive I should say a package of beans, easy to keep the seed from, store and transport, and only need water to cook them. But, without a good bottle of wine?

Thank you both. We’ll see you at the FAIR!

Please visit the FAIR website for more information about the Seven Springs, Pa. FAIR September 24-25, and upcoming FAIRs in other locations. Tickets are on sale now.

You can also get FAIR updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages. 

Keep an eye out for Trivia Ticket Tuesdays and Trivia Ticket Thursdays for your chance to win two tickets to the FAIR!